Archive | Stand-up Comedy RSS feed for this section

Post-fiat set number one

12 Mar

Earlier this year I had the emotionally draining, profoundly demoralizing and just plain terrible experience of being forced to choose between my job [1] and my stand-up. Though a surprisingly long and indeed quite equally entertaining backstory, much less need really be explained here for the situating of the clip.

Essentially, several months into my contract I received a letter from high up [2] to the effect that, with respect to my obligations under the Values and Ethics Code for the Public Sector [3], I’d been found to be in a conflict of interest on account of my stand-up activities. I was told that I failed to meet the highest standards of integrity and fairness [4] and that unless I agreed to refrain from using a certain type of material—specifically, for example, sexual abuse of children, abortion, violence against women and war crimes [5]—I would leave myself open to appropriate disciplinary action, up to and including termination of employment [6].

The fact that I do stand-up, and of a particular kind, was always something about which I was entirely up front, from the time of my applying for the job. For whatever reason, however, the very same jokes which, during my interview, were appreciated for their intrinsically ethical nature, only later gave rise to significant concerns with respect to my ability to meet my work obligations [7].

(Much more fun, really, to read Kafka than live it [8].)

The letter came to me on a Wednesday, hours before I was scheduled to perform, and I had little idea as to what to do. In the end, as opposed to simply cancelling the set and going home; rehashing non-violence against women, etc. material; or continuing, apparently, to violate the terms of my employment, I decided to go up on stage, in quasi-bewilderment, and do the following.

Anyway, perhaps the rest of the story another time.

(As well, I believe that the emcee that night—the ridiculously hilarious Graham Kay—introduced me by saying something about how much he enjoys my writing. I add that only because I make a quick reference to the comment during the set.)

[1] Articling Student with the Ontario Regional Office of the Department of Justice and Public Prosecution Service of Canada.

[2] A/Assistant Deputy Minister, Management Sector.

[3] Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, Values and Ethics Code for the Public Sector, online: Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat <http://www.tbs-sct.gc.ca/pol/doc-eng.aspx?id=25049&section=text>.

[4] As per the Department of Justice Canada Mandate, Mission and Values, online: Department of Justice Canada <http://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/dept-min/mandat.html>.

[5] Outside Employment Conflict of Interest Determination, Office for Integrity and Conflict Management in the Workplace (March 6, 2012) at 1. [But what is this type of material? Why is abortion lumped in with the rest? I asked and I asked, so as to know just what kind of speech exactly I was being asked to confirm I would cease to use during any performances, but to no avail. I thought, perhaps, it’s a jurisdiction issue? (For instance, might it be ok to speak on provincial matters?) But, apparently, after months of committee deliberation and external consultation, this was the only solution that could be envisioned. (One option considered—as explained by straight-faced senior management—was for me to submit all my prospective jokes for screening. And I would have loved that. I would have figuratively killed for that, almost. What a colossal, tremendous waste of time that would have been.) And it was flattering, in one sense, I suppose, that a colleague made the effort to google my name, watch a set of my stand-up, tell others about it, and then rustle around some complaints. (Because certainly, I mean, yes, perhaps I am a wife-beating, child-fucking, fag-hating anti-Semite. But, then, what about the Ghostbusters joke? What about the Ghostbusters joke? (Not to mention, the funny thing is, is that I really do believe in most equality rights for differentially treated, etc. groups. But, then, I guess, stand-up really is about rhetoric and language and communication and all such other sorts of things with which, apparently, one cannot expect lawyers to be accustomed.) Anyway—stage names. That’s really the moral of the footnote. Or, maybe, it isn’t? For instance, if actor-government litigator Al Pacino were to come/have come to me, hypothetically, I’d say/have said, sorry—sorry, Al—no—but we just can’t have it. Reasonable persons are going to think that you’re actually the fucking Godfather.]

[6] Ibid at 2.

[7] Ibid at 1. (This was the Department of Justice for which I withdrew from my Masters of Ethics Programme?)

[8] The worst part is the constantly feeling as if you’re about to throw up.

Below

4 Feb

Seemingly each and every time the inclination to quit everything comedy comes about and presents itself even more uncomfortably, the universe intervenes and provides me with even less of an anything to which to devote myself. And, then, faced with this even vaster, if possibly differently unfulfilling void, it seems most natural to again turn inward.

For instance, the other Sunday, looking for a belt, damn near the entire goddman day was spent wandering around in search of a belt. And it wasn’t the entire day, but maybe too much of it nonetheless. It had been a long while since the belt with which I’d grown comfortable over the years had come apart in a way irreparable, and I figured that it was time to no longer think about it as my last (i.e. ultimate) belt.

But it started coming to about 5:00 and it was Sunday, and the stores, so I imagined, were about coming to their close, and it wasn’t even the thought of likely going home without a belt, so much as the end of the search itself that was most unsettling.  Because—and this may end up being a terrible sentence fragment—throughout the day—though, granted, any prospective new belt wasn’t essential, given my already being able to walk through the city in pants—I had the very strong sense that if my entire life consisted of nothing but this looking for a belt, that would be ok.

Could there really be/have been a belt with which I’d be happy? Possibly, sure. But, would it be/have been likely? No, absolutely not. Plus, though I can now remember where and on which trip I’d purchased the last belt, I couldn’t, on the day of the searching discussed, remember how I’d felt at that previous purchase.

Certainly, the love of a belt is something that grows over time.

Anyway, I ended up happening upon an in-the-end quite disappointingly cheap place selling things leather—which I was hoping to refer to as a leathery but which apparently really isn’t called that—and purchased just some ridiculous piece of belt because it was there, the talking down to $35 of which shouldn’t have mattered at all.

It’s as bulky today as it was then. And there’s no way they’re taking it back. And I’m not a cowboy. And it’s been just sitting there, on a shelf, the entire time.

Rock ‘n’ Roll High School

3 Dec

Going to Cleveland last month for the Fifth (Fifth!) Annual Cleveland Comedy (Annual!) Festival was a handful and then some of laughs. Many know how it came about, but what matters is that it was a good time.

I had the pleasure of being driven down, safe in the backseat, by comedienne of note, Steph Tolev, while all-around person Eric Andrews sat in front of me, and I couldn’t see what he was doing but it didn’t seem to matter.

The big decision early on was how many pairs of pants to take. Thankfully, on the morning of departure, there was some delay with my being picked up from the café, allowing me time enough to return home and remove the jeans I’d been wearing for the jeans that had been in my bag.

There had been several considerations.

The jeans are of similar make and style and colour, although one is a 31-inch waist, while the other is a 32. I thought, “certainly I enjoy traveling light, but I’m not sure just which pair of pants at this point really are my pants, so why be condemned to the possibly wrong pair of pants for an entire weekend when you want to enjoy yourself, not to mention feel comfortable standing before audiences? The fact that your only serviceable pair of shoes are uncomfortable doesn’t enter into it.”

The pants (i.e. the two of them) were purchased maybe a half a year ago in Montreal, during one of my many weekend trips there for various reasons, at a time when I felt in need of pants. Although it’s not a good story, basically I wasn’t sure which size to get. In the end, not taking any of the salesperson’s arguably professional advice into consideration, I decided to get both, and then figure it out later. (Of course, one of the last things one may want is to be constantly making this same decision each and every morning, as opposed to just once, but, then, this has been a life, more or less, of essentially always just really pushing aside any real moment of actual decision-making.)

Anyway, so I think that I ended up removing the slightly larger pair for the slightly smaller pair, and then putting the pants-removed down onto the floor. And then I left the house, if I recall. But, if I did, then I then went back in, and picked it up off the floor and put in into my bag. (Again, never really committing.) It felt ridiculous being in the car ride down in the tighter pants, but, then, I understood that if it were to turn out that the other ones were actually the better pair, then it’d be great to be able to change, upon arrival, into a “fresh” pair.

It was a great weekend, and I spent it all in the bigger pair. And, now, having had all that time to know that I feel better in one pair more than the other, I’m really not nearly as much concerned with the question of which one to wear as I was before. (As I write this, I’m actually in a third pair of pants, but they’ve got too many too-gaping holes for regular wear, on account of having been the pair previously, and worn basically all away. But, they’re good for writing in.)

Eric returned home with $1,500 in both actual and giant novelty cheque Stand-up Contest winnings, Steph came to terms with having taken a really expensive cab ride across town for what turned out to be but a three-minute spot, and I learned that it’s no good to close an LGBT fundraiser set with an AIDS joke.

Ok.

Cleveland in Photos

It is what it is

22 Nov

Last night, after my set, an obnoxiously drunken woman from the audience accosted me at a venue different from the one where I’d performed. Stumbling up to me at the bar, slurring, “it just wasn’t funny, man, it just wasn’t funny,” I didn’t know how to respond. When interrupted similarly, during the set, earlier, when she’d slurred out, “it’s not funny, man, it’s just not funny,” it was somewhat easier to answer her, employing the direct – and which I feel is best – approach, of telling her that nobody cares what she thinks and to shut the fuck up.

It was a strange encounter, though, at the bar, as her opinions were of no less validity necessarily than those of the previous evening’s almost-overbearing drunk, who couldn’t have been any more generous in his praise. They each left me feeling differently, however, despite neither of them being really wrong, though, I thought.

The first performance was a good performance. That the only heckler that evening had her mouth held shut by her friend laughing hysterically throughout just made sense. But the second evening’s set really wasn’t funny.

There’s a terrible moment I’m often acutely aware of when talking to those whom I come to realize, only far too late into the conversation, are either drunk or mad. It’s the feeling of both i) what the hell!/why the hell, then, have I been wasting my time here already, and ii) well then what the hell does it matter if one’s drunk or mad, if all that’s been said up to now’s made a lot of sense? And then things get cold, and cold and uncomfortable.

So the very short, obnoxiously drunken woman, then, wasn’t to be dismissed out-and-out just in person. Sure, she had been disrespectful earlier, and that may have been a reason for acting disrespectfully at this point in time, but then she was just yet another person who’d had too much to drink, and was a horrible person, but with a distinctly valid or not criticism nonetheless.

“It’s possible,” I said, “but that doesn’t mean that you ought to speak out in the middle of a set. It isn’t necessarily always funny.”

“It’s my birthday,” she said again.

“Happy birthday.”

In and for itself

27 Sep

This is a link to a piece from Psychology Tomorrow Magazine about why some comics may go into stand-up and what they may get out of it. I was fortunate enough to have the pleasure of being interviewed for the article, which touches upon several questions that I find to be endlessly fascinating.

Though certainly more than happy to have been involved in the piece and, obviously, to share it with others, I find the prospect of actually addressing directly questions such as what is stand-up or why go into it, frankly, to be somewhat anathema. For me, the only way of coming to terms with stand-up is by way of stand-up itself. I’m simply not sure of how it may otherwise be possible to avoid distorting what it is essentially.

Of course, this may be a limitation on my own behalf only. Still, perhaps somewhat more mercifully than the philosophers of language, choosing – forced? – to attempt to speak of language in ways almost around, or even outside of, language, I’ve simply provided a little joke, illustrative of my general thought and feeling.

Ok.

So, only one joke discussed

18 Sep

What’s a comic to do with those jokes most likely to be appreciated by other comics only? Introduce them to the world in some confusedly ineffectual manner with respect to whatever may be the intention, it appears. And, so, here, as equally open for public consumption in theory as without readership in fact, are some jokes otherwise far better performed than written out, notwithstanding the case of the likelihood of so few appreciating them if performed.

(All of this too, perhaps, obviously, or, actually, maybe not at all, would most likely be better experienced more fully performatively. It’s the inflection, pacing, intonation, etc. that’s lost. On the other hand, of course, is the opportunity to read over, read in and return to, etc. provided.)

Unrelatedly, most comics appear to employ such a space for the promotion of future shows. That for which it appears to be best, however, is in fact the apologizing and attempting-to-account in light of whatever earlier, perhaps previous nights’ performances.

So, though immediately, at least for me, seemingly far more interesting to carry on in this vein, these are the jokes:

Sifting through some old papers the other day, I happened to come across the first joke I ever wrote. And it was a thrill, just to see how incredibly funny…how sophisticated…was the comedic sense, even back then. Because it’s just…it was…it appears to have been a callback.

Cue slow clap.

You see, the thing is, it’s just not a joke that’s for everyone. And that’s not to say that it’s not a good joke.

There’s a difference between a joke that’s no good in itself, unconditionally, and a joke that’s no good in its time and place and people. Here, whatever elements of sufficient joke goodness there may be, if any, are present.

The problem lies in the general, non-comedian audience’s lack of familiarity, in general, with the notion of a callback. In the context of a set of stand-up comedy, a callback denotes a referencing to an earlier moment in the set. A callback will tend to take the form of a punch line that brings to the audience’s collective attention an earlier joke or punch line. The apparent intention of a comedian employing a callback, one can only assume, is the affecting, thereby, of not only a moment of pleasant surprise, but the impression, too, of incredible, pants-dropping proportions of comedic mastery.

Returning at this time to the joke, the implicit, comedic incongruence of a first joke being a callback is revealed.

The joke, then, arguably, turns in on itself, maybe, for just as the fictional joke callback must have necessarily failed as callback, so too does this admittedly pretty worthless callback joke fail as joke.

Yet, in my mind, I love them both.